Travel

PHOTOS: Ivanscica – Northern Croatia's First Nature Park?

By 6 January 2021
Ivanscica
Ivanscica © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

January 6, 2021 – The spectacular backdrop to photographs taken at some of Zagorje's most famous landmarks, Ivanscica is the highest mountain in the country's north. Richly ringed by castles and fortresses that draw investigating hikers, could it become Northern Croatia's first-ever Nature Park?

Northern Croatia is renowned for many reasons. It has the highest concentration of castles and stately homes in the whole of Croatia, including many of the country's most spectacular. It has fantastic museums, some of which are even situated inside these castles. Rivers, water parks and ancient spa waters dot the landscape and the rustic, classic cuisine is often so great you know exactly why the capital city claims much of it as its own. In regular years, northern Croatia also has a full calendar of exciting events that take in all manner of music, folklore, arts & crafts, film festivals and much more besides.

Yet, anyone who has visited the land 'over the mountain' will tell you that one of its most remarkable attributes is its scenery. Historic settlements, comprised of architecture varying between the grandiose, the modern and the functional, amalgamated over hundreds of years, sat on gently rolling slopes. Away from the houses and other buildings, vineyards and farmland stretch along similarly undulating land, gifting a view that must have looked much the same 100 years ago. You can see this amazing topography when you fly into Zagreb from western Europe – it's the magical-looking land below you that looks like something JRR Tolkien might have imagined for The Lord Of The Rings.

zagorje-vinogradi--ivo-biocina_1.jpgZagorje © Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Despite its wondrous natural assets, northern Croatia (which is nowadays split into three, vast counties – Medimurje, Krapinska-Zagorje and Varazdin county), is the only region in Croatia that surprisingly does not have a dedicated nature park. That may be changed with the launching of an initiative to make Ivanscica the first nature park in Hrvatsko Zagorje.

Belecgrad.jpgBabin Zub on the south-west slopes of Ivanscica offers incredible views of Zagorje. Mount Medvednica can be seen in the distance © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Ivanscica is the highest mountain in northern Croatia. It is 30 kilometres long and nine kilometres wide, rising to 1060 metres at its highest point. Situated less than 30 kilometres south-west of the city of Varazdin, it runs along the border between Krapinska-Zagorje and Varazdin counties in a long stretch of mountainous ground that starts near the westerly-lying Strahinjčica (near Krapina_. These mountains hug the horizon within photographs taken at many of northern Croatia's most famous landmarks. They are also rich in geodiversity and biodiversity.

ivanscicahpd.jpg© Zoran Stanko / Croatian Mountaineering Association Ivancica

The nature and geological make-up of Ivanscica has long been drawing visitors. A much-loved site for walking, hiking and climbing, its topography varies between bare rock and lower areas covered with trees like beech, oak and hornbeam. Ivanscica is particularly popular as a traditional excursion on May Day. The numbers of walkers and hikers around this time can reach into the thousands and the event extends over several days.

snowy12333.jpg© Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

At the peak of Ivanscica is a mountain lodge, Pasarić's house and two lookouts with incredible views, the lodge's original construction date of 1929 attesting to the mountain's long popularity as a place for recreation. It was named after Josip Pasarić (1860 - 1937), a teacher, journalist, sometime politician and a former president of the Croatian Mountaineering Association. Nearly a century old, it is far from being the oldest structure to have taken advantage of this raised ground and the views they provide.

kucaIvan.jpgPasarić's house © Croatian Mountaineering Association Ivancica

On the southern slopes of Ivanscica, two particularly impressive ruins invite exploration. Less than two kilometres south of Ivanscica's peak, Belecgrad Fortress, sits on a secluded and steep rocky peak that is 540m high. It can be reached by approaching from the west. Although now a ruin, this strategically important fortress was once a royal estate, over time belonging to a series of owners including Frederick of Celje Peter Gising and the families Celjski, Szekely, Frankopan, Keglević, Erdody and Rattkay.

hpd-belecgrad-dron.jpgBelecgrad Fortress, seen from above © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Three or four kilometres to the east of Belecgrad Fortress, the medieval castle of Milengrad dates back around 775 years and served as a residence and defensive fortress for a good 400 years before succumbing to either the Ottomans or an earthquake (Ivanscica has been the site of several considerable earthquakes – the most recent being a 6.2 level quake in 1983).

MilengradEmaBabić.jpgMilengrad, one of many castles and fortifications that can be found on the slopes of Ivanscica © Ema Babić

These ruins are impressive enough, but they are only two of a series of defensive structures to ring the mountain, others including the castles and fortresses Pokojec, Oštrcgrad, Loborgrad, Židovina (a Jewish fortification), Gradišče, Ivanec, Bela, Gotalovec, Cukovec, Lepoglava and Grebengrad. Some of these (Grebengrad, Bela and Cukovec) were rebuilt on the site of forts that extend further back than the 12th century.

BelecgradonthesouthsideofIvanscica.jpgBelecgrad on the south side of Ivanscica © Branko Barlović / Croatian Mountaineering Association

There are currently eight National Parks within Croatia - Krka, Plitvice Lakes, Mljet, Brijuni Islands, Kornati, Paklenica, Risnjak and Northern Velebit – each closely guarded to protect and preserve their nature and beauty for future generations. In addition, there are a series of eleven Nature Parks - Žumberak / Samoborsko gorje. Biokovo, Kopački rit, Lastovo archipelago, Lonjsko polje, Medvednica, Papuk, Telašćica, Učka, Velebit and Vrana lake, with Dinara well on its way to becoming number twelve. Their status differs from National Parks in that, although they are protected areas, their standing does not impede on recreation and other activities within them that do not damage their distinct assets. As a site rich for exploration, walking, hiking and climbing, the destination of Nature Park status would perfectly suit Ivanscica and it could well become Croatia's thirteenth Nature Park, the first within Northern Croatia.

Ivanscica Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad.jpg

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